The couch has a USB port

couch USB port

Today I did some reorganizing and had a chain of really long USB cables to use, so I plugged one end into the back of the Xbox 360 and then wrapped the cable along the baseboards, ending nestled into couch.  Woop!  Now I have a USB port for the Xbox 360 right there.  My inner dork rejoices!

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Neat feature of Media Player in Windows 7: Pretty generic album art

Sometimes an album doesn’t have album art, or the album art hasn’t been loaded yet.  Previous version of Windows Media Player would solve this problem by displaying the album as a glossy blue tile overplayed with the album title in white text.  With a lot of albums without cover art (or before the album art has been loaded) this look didn’t meet Media Center’s premium visual standards.  The solution:
media center pretty generic album art

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Media Center in Windows 7 is great for ripping DVDs

I have invested a lot of time and storage space ripping whole DVDs to my computer.  This worked out great, because there is a hidden feature in Windows Vista Media Center for viewing DVDs that have been ripped to hard drives.  This worked pretty well, but reveling the menu required changing a value in the registry, and the feature wasn’t very polished, which is likely why it was hidden in the first place.  Things have changed in the Windows 7 Beta.

Now there is a “movies” menu front and center in Media Center’s start menu.
media center movies 1

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Ripped DVDs + Media Center, Better with Cover Art

Over the past few months I have really gotten into ripping DVDs to my computer in full quality (without re-compressing the video), so that I could play them in Media Center just as though I had put in the physical disk.  (I learned how to do that from a blog post on a Microsoft student site.)  Since each disk contains about 7.2GB of data, this did require getting a little more hard drive space.  Since I started I have ripped about 250 DVDs, but I had only taken the time to manually get the cover art for the first few that I ripped.  Getting coverart for the DVDs to show up in Media Center required going to Amazon.com, searching for the DVD, clicking through to the large picture of the box cover, saving that image, cropping it, and moving it to the DVD folder and naming it “folder.jpg”.  That was more mindless work than I wanted to put up with, so I did a little research.

Here’s a quick jump forward to the final product:
View Large

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Setting up a TV Tuner card in Windows Media Center

Tivo?  Don’t make my laugh!  If you have a Windows Vista computer, chances are that you can get a more premium experience, with even more features, for less money.  Windows Media Center comes with Windows Vista Home Premium, and of course Ultimate, so if you are looking for a little more out of your system, it could cost as little as $60.  I bought the Hauppauge Win-TV PVR 150, $75 with shipping off NewEgg.

The setup process was so easy, that this post is more a demo than a tutorial.  "The next step" is always obvious.

The first thing I did was install the card in my computer.  That was just like installing any other PCI card.  Then, of course, I hooked the card up to a standard co-axial cable so that it could have a signal to work with.

Next, I turned on my computer and saw this:
installing software

Then I clicked on it just to see what was going on.
installed

Then Windows asked me to restart.  Even though I doubt I really needed to, I did anyway.
restart now

Next I opened Windows Media Center.
media center

Then I scrolled over to "set up tv".
set up tv

I’m going to describe the proceeding steps, but honestly the next step is always apparent.

I clicked next.
set up your TV signal

I selected yes.
confirm your region

I selected next.
confirm your region 2

I waited for a few seconds.
downloading TV setup options

I selected automatically.
automatic TV signal setup

I selected next.
automatic TV signal setup 2

I waited for a few seconds.
examining your TV signal setup

I selected yes.
TV signal configuration result

I selected next.
TV configuration result 2

I selected next.
Guide

I selected yes.
Guide Privacy

I selected next.
Guide Privacy 2

I selected I agree.
Guide Terms of Service

I selected next.
Guide Terms of Service 2

I entered my ZIP code.
Enter your ZIP code

I selected next. (note: I edited my ZIP code out.)
 Enter your ZIP code 2

I waited for a few seconds.
Downloading Provider Information

I chose the right provider. (Note: I edited the first part of the names out.)
 Select TV signal provider

I selected next.
 Select TV signal provider 2

I waited for a few seconds.
Download TV program guide

I clicked next.
Download TV program guide 2

I scrolled over to "live tv".
back to the main menu

I selected "live tv".
select live tv

I channel surfed!
surf!

I’d say the whole process took under 30 minutes, though I can’t be sure because I didn’t do it all at the same time.  Features I can now use include pausing live TV, rewinding live TV, easily skipping past commercials, using the guide, schedule recording single episodes or whole seasons,  watching TV recordings that are currently recording, burning recordings to DVD, copying the recording files directly to my laptop, and syncing recordings with my Zune.  Best of all, like always I can bring this whole experience down to my TV through my Xbox.  All of that is on top of the Media Center functionality that I could already use!

w00t!